Election 2016: Minneapolis School Board, District 4

(By request.)

This is a genuinely interesting race. Here’s who’s running:

Josh Reimnitz (Incumbent)
Bob Walser (DFL-endorsed)

If you peel back the boilerplate rhetoric, this is kind of a contest between the school reform movement and the teacher’s union, although when I say “school reform movement” I want to be very clear about the fact that I don’t think Josh is on the side of monied interests who want to turn schools into for-profit businesses. I just don’t think he’s necessarily on the side of the teacher’s union.

Before going any further I want to talk about how I view teacher’s unions. I am not anti-union. However, I think it’s useful to acknowledge something that should be obvious, which is that the role of a teacher’s union is to advocate for and represent the interests of the teachers. Those often coincide (or at least overlap heavily) with the interests of the students. But not always, and I think it is legitimate, when electing school board members, to prioritize the interests of the students.

(In St. Paul last year, on issues that the teachers were furious about, students and parents were overwhelmingly on the same page. This was an election over things like discipline policies and school safety; the iPad rollout; the changes made to how schools were structured — everyone was angry about those changes. I think students are well-served by contracts saying that teachers get a lunch break, a prep period, decent salaries, good health benefits, small class sizes. However, I think that the procedures for firing unionized teachers are not in the interests of the students, and anyone saying so should be laughed at. Do they benefit students some of the time? Sure. Do I need to roll out my horror stories of genuinely godawful teachers who were shielded by the fact that it’s very difficult to fire a teacher? No, I don’t, because you can ask literally anyone who has a student in the Minneapolis Public Schools for their version of those stories.)

 

I also want to note that in Minneapolis school board races I give preference to the incumbent, because serving on the school board is a completely shitty job: you work full time (or more) for $15,000/year and a large part of your role is to be yelled at for all the failings of a large, complicated system. Few people run twice, and as a result the board has suffered significantly from a lack of institutional memory.

Josh Reimnitz won his seat in 2012, kind of implausibly given that he didn’t have the DFL endorsement, was an extreme newcomer to the city, and has no kids in the schools. (He has no kids, period. When he won four years ago, he was 26 years old; now he’s 30.) He’s a Teach for America alum, which straight up made him deeply unpopular with the teacher’s union. His partner Daniela is a charter school principal — yet another potential strike against him, although there’s a school board member who got elected who works at a charter, I think, so maybe this is becoming less radioactive.

Josh’s big project in the last four years was rewriting the policy manual. Apparently the Minneapolis school board purchased a policy manual back in the 1960s and hasn’t done any comprehensive updating since then. Josh has some explanation on his website for why this was important; I haven’t seen the manual, but I expect he’s correct that it’s a mess.

His endorsements are heavily former school board members. He quotes from Carla Bates, who says, “Josh is an informed and independent voice for Minneapolis students.  Over the past four years, I have admired Josh’s dogged focus on student achievement and fiscal accountability.  Josh works hard to insure alignment between our goals as a school district and our resources.  Josh knows how to prioritize and students are at the center of all that he does. As part of the mix on a 9 member school board, Josh is needed now more than ever.” I’ll note that I have a lot of respect for Carla Bates: my recollection is that when she was on the board, she was very willing to make unpopular decisions and she didn’t sugar-coat things, two traits that the board needs more of.

I kind of want to unpack Carla’s statement. “An informed and independent voice,” I think, means “he’s not in the pocket of the teacher’s union, but he’s also not a complete idiot.” (It might also mean “look, some outside groups donated a shit ton of money to get him elected last time, but he’s not in their pocket, either.”) When she says that she admires his dogged focus on student achievement and fiscal accountability, I’d read that as, “he’s willing to piss off his coworkers on the board by insisting they pay attention to this stuff.” When she says “as part of the mix on a 9 member school board, Josh is needed now more than ever,” I read that as, “would we want nine of this guy? hell no. But we definitely want one of him.”

The other thing that strikes me in comparing his endorsements to Bob Walser’s — I think (but I’m not 100% sure) that Josh’s come heavily from the members and former members who are not from the (wealthy) southwest neighborhoods — which is interesting, because District 4 is mostly made up of those areas (it includes Bryn Mawr, Lake of the Isles, and Lake Calhoun). His endorsements also come heavily from people who are retired, and no longer need the support of the DFL. (Bob Walser is endorsed by Kim Ellison, who’s from northeast and is an exception to this generalization, but she’s also currently running and currently endorsed, and there’s an explicit expectation of endorsed candidates that they back the other endorsed candidates, to the point that there was a kerfluffle two years ago when Iris Altamirano appeared somewhere with Don Samuels.) (Edited to add: someone left the correction that Kim Ellison is from North, not Northeast, Minneapolis. That doesn’t really affect the point here, though.)

The front page of Bob Walser’s website starts with the following statement: “As the only candidate in the District 4 race with a student in Minneapolis public schools, and as the husband of an MPS first-grade teacher, I know, first hand, how the decisions made by the Minneapolis School Board affect our students and teachers. I hear about it at my kitchen table.” There is a value in these personal connections, but I don’t think childless people should be automatically excluded from this particular type of public service.

He goes on to list three reasons that he’s running:

Equity must be our priority. Strong schools in every neighborhood today are the key to a strong Minneapolis tomorrow. I will fight for equity across all of our schools to provide the resources every student needs to thrive

Students are not data points. Data-driven education programs have their benefits, but effective education recognizes that every student is a unique individual. For every student to thrive, teachers and front-line staff must be empowered to address the needs of the whole child.

Our community should decide what best for our schools. Out-of-state billionaires are pouring money into Minneapolis school board elections and elections across the country. I support local, democratic elections for our school boar

My first thought on is “students are not data points” line was that he was making a pre-emptive strike against attempts to evaluate teachers based on student growth shown through test scores. Reading it again, though, he’s actually specifically objecting to data-driven instruction, where teachers are encouraged to use information from tests to see where their students are lagging, and shift their approach to bring those students up to speed. I’ve discussed this approach with a teacher; I was skeptical, but she says that while implementation can be annoying, it actually works really well. (I mean, obviously also students are unique individuals who deserve to have their unique needs addressed. The profound failures here were part of why I pulled my kids out of MPS; I blame, in part, the extremely large class sizes.)

Finally, he takes a swipe at “out of state billionaires” and links to an article from 2014. The race two years ago was startlingly contentious and expensive. It’s worth noting, though, that one of the major groups donating money said they were looking for candidates committed to “equity, transparency, and partnerships with community members,” and transparency is a 100% legit gripe to have with the board (the article goes on to talk about how the call for greater transparency came “after a no-bid contract was awarded to Community Standards Initiative, a community group that received a $375,000 contract to address the district’s achievement gap. The group eventually lost its contract for failing to meet its goals.” It’s legit to be suspicious of money coming in to fund school board races from outside the state but they are not always a bunch of conservatives trying to destroy urban education on behalf of The Man.)

In his “About Bob” section he emphasizes his local roots (Josh is from South Dakota) and his background as an ethnomusicologist. Both Bob and Josh are white men in a district where only about 1/3 of the students are white and that continues to have both segregation and enormous achievement gaps. There’s an excellent MNPost article I found about the race (seriously, go read that one) where both men apparently got asked about their knowlege and commitment regarding racial issues. Bob talked about his ethnomusicology background and added that a friend had given him the book A Good Time for the Truth, which is a series of essays about racism in Minnesota: “On an intellectual level, I sort of knew that stuff was out there. But it grabbed me and shook me personally. It moved it from an intellectual understanding to a much more gut level understanding. I think that’s what stories can do. Stories are powerful that way.”

This frankly made me wince. I mean I am really glad he is reading this book but if you’re at the point where you “sort of knew this stuff was out there,” holy shit, that’s where you were when you filed to run for school board of Minneapolis?

In the same article, Josh pointed out that at the DFL City Convention, the 30-35 supporters who stood up with Bob were all white. At these conventions, when someone is nominated they get to make a short speech and it’s pretty routine to have literally anyone present who’s wearing their t-shirt and doesn’t suffer from extreme stage fright to come stand up front behind them while they make their speech. The thought of having a candidate for Minneapolis school board who is surrounded by 100% white people makes me wince.

 

Josh also talks about how his partner “happens to be a person of color,” which also makes me wince, for the record. He also notes that she calls him on his privilege and it sounds like he’s receptive, which is good. (From the article: “He says he has his wife to thank for keeping him on his toes. ‘My partner, who happens to be a person of color, educates me fairly regularly about my privilege,’ he said, noting they’ll often debrief on his body language and comments after board meetings. ‘For instance, she reminds me that something as minor as sitting in a way that takes up a lot of space is totally a male thing,’ he said, laughing.”)

I mean — Bob’s emphasis on his local roots and his school connections are all designed to send the message that when it comes to school-related, community-related stuff, Josh is clueless and Bob is clued in. Having a pack of all-white supporters at the DFL convention undercuts that. Although his endorsements include a bunch of people of color, and I will also say that I disagree with Josh’s suggestion that the white crowd at the convention shows “who’s going to be represented” — I think that Bob would absolutely try to represent the interests of all the kids, regardless of race, and I am sure that Josh’s group was not a perfectly representative sample of the student population. However, I think that on issues of race, Josh sounds like he has a larger portion of a clue than Bob does.

Circling back to my original take on this race: I think that Bob very much represents the establishment here. Not entirely in a bad way — when I look at his supporters, I see a lot of people I like and respect. (I campaigned for Julie Sabo when she ran for the Minnesota Senate years ago.) But I get a pretty strong vibe of, “how dare this thirty-year-old upstart who’s not even from here try to tell us what needs to happen with our schools.

And yet, I don’t think Josh is pushing for anything particularly revolutionary. He’s updating a policy manual, which strikes me as the sort of thing that everyone knows ought to be done and no one’s had the energy to do. He’s independent, focused on accountability (including fiscal accountability), and willing to annoy the rest of the board. I see all those things as strengths. He’s also an incumbent, and see above for my pro-incumbency bias.

If I lived in this neighborhood, I think I would vote for Josh Reimnitz. But my priorities might not align with yours; I have a lot of friends who I think would vote for Bob.

I’ll also note that Bob served for a number of years as a board member at Tapestry Folkdance; I’ve danced there and have a number of friends who dance and teach there, so I e-mailed one of them to ask what she thought of the guy. She wrote back to say, “Really nice guy, awesome accordion player.” She added that they’d never served on the board together, but that his reputation around Tapestry was “someone who is incredibly dependable.” I’ll just note that this is much higher praise than it might sound. From my own volunteer experiences, the person who is incredibly dependable is the bedrock on which the endeavor rests and these people are gold and deserve everyone’s gratitude and regular deliveries of cookies. So … while philosophically, I would go for the guy who’s kind of a maverick, I don’t think Bob is a bad choice. He sounds like he’d also do a great job.

For those who are unpersuaded by my analysis and want more details, some other info I found but didn’t have reason to link above:

Profiles of the candidates from Southwest Journal, written in June
Josh’s campaign Facebook page
An article about Josh from 2012
Bob Walser’s Twitter
And I linked to this above but I’m going to link to it again:
A terrific MNPost article about this year’s race. The comments are also worth reading. (MNPost aggressively moderates their comments to keep them from turning into a cesspool.)

 

 

 

 

Election 2016: U.S. House, 5th Congressional District

The 5th district Representative is Keith Ellison. I like Keith Ellison a lot: he’s a reliable liberal vote in Congress and he makes conservatives’ heads explode. Especially this year. (Did you hear that Trump’s campaign manager talked about Trump’s “five-point plan to defeat Islam”? She’s since blamed sleep deprivation for how that came out, but I’d say this is a good example of the definition of “gaffe” that goes “a politician was caught accidentally saying what they really mean.”)

The candidates on the ballot:

Keith Ellison (DFL)
Frank Drake (Republican)
Dennis Schuller (Legal Marijuana Now)

So yeah, Keith Ellison. Reliably liberal Democrat. I don’t know what all else to say about him: his policies are basically exactly what you’d expect (protect voting rights, reduce carbon emissions, expand Pell Grants… he has a lot of specifics if you look on his Issues page).

Frank Drake. His Platform section starts off as follows:

My number one issue that desperately needs to be addressed is Education. For far too long we’ve been scared to make the necessary changes which will give our children the best chance to succeed in a global market. We’re stuck in a 19th-century school calendar, but we live in the 21st Century.

We need to modernize our school calendar so we can catch up to the rest of the world. We also need to emphasize the basics such as arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling, and science.

Okay. First of all, school calendars are set by the states. This is not remotely in the Federal government’s wheelhouse, and I find it sort of hilarious and fascinating that a Republican is advocating so strongly for increased federal control over something that historically has been a local issue.

Also, I’m not sure if he’s paid much attention to this, but the Republican party has been having an ongoing freakout over the Common Core standards, which were the Federal government’s attempt to emphasize the basics such as arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling, and science.

He then goes on to say:

In High school, we have to encourage some students to learn a skill or trade because college isn’t for everyone. These students graduate High school,  ready to enter a field as an apprentice.

Just a couple of days ago I was writing about Ron Moey (candidate for Minnesota State Senate) and a questionnaire he filled out back in 2002 during a prior run for office, which included a question about whether he’d try to protect students from job training, basically. From the 14-year-old questionnaire: “The Profile of Learning and School-to-Work system are turning K-12 schools into job training centers where job skills training is replacing academic instruction. … Will you support legislation that protects students in K-12 schools by prohibiting all requirements that all students must participate in career skills training or other work-based curriculum, instruction or employment-related activity in career areas?” Ron answered “yes,” which was clearly the correct answer. I added, “I think most Republicans these days are OK with in-school job training these days, but maybe not?” Question answered! Republicans are A-OK with job training these days. (Much like they’re A-OK with the Federal government implementing basics-oriented standards as long as it’s Republicans doing it instead of Democrats.)

He goes on to talk about Obamacare:

Did you know, every person in Minnesota has to carry over 70 mandated health coverages? Each coverage carries a cost and is the primary reason why health care costs have skyrocketed. Many of these coverages you will never need. My Plan would allow greater flexibility on the health care exchanges, allowing people to choose some of their coverages. All while protecting people from being denied coverage who have a pre-existing condition.

So a couple of notes: he doesn’t put his plan on his website, which is a shame since he’d be basically the only Republican I’ve run across with an actual plan. Pretty sure it’s because he doesn’t have one either, but who knows. Also, it’s absolutely true that you’ll never need some of the mandated coverages. I looked this up — your plan must include coverage for outpatient care, hospital care, emergency services, pregnancy and maternity care, mental health care, prescription drugs, labs, chronic disease management, and rehabilitative services. It’s been years since I’ve needed hospitalization coverage and those fascists make me buy it anyway on the specious grounds that you never know when you might get trampled by a wandering white-tailed deer or suddenly need your gall bladder removed or whatever.

It is in point of fact absolutely true that Ed, for example, is never going to need pregnancy and maternity care. They make people buy that one because it’s in everyone’s interest that pregnant women get prenatal coverage, and if only women who are planning to get pregnant buy it, it’s going to be ridiculously expensive, and there will be a shit ton of women who get pregnant unexpectedly, opt not to terminate, and wind up either not getting prenatal care at all, or needing state help to afford it. This is in no one’s interest, not even Frank’s, though I’m sure he feels deeply affronted at the idea that prenatal care for women he doesn’t know might benefit him in any way.

Anyway. Frank is a moderately typical Republican, hasn’t thought through most of his positions to any real degree, and misuses capitalization. Next!

Next is Dennis Schuller. I’m going to C&P an excerpt from his website:

If the government can take away your basic right to use a plant as you see fit there are truly deeper issues. Prohibition is a human rights issue and I am a human rights candidate personal safety is my number one concern, everybody should be safe and not afraid of violent criminal acts. When we confuse morality with criminality we become a church state, the separation of church and state is protected in the constitution you can subscribe to any religion you want but you still have to follow the rules set forth by the government but not vice versa. However rules are supposed to make sense and be limited in scope to pretty much anything that impedes the citizen’s right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. I believe a kinder friendlier government should be our goal, our government should seek ways to end animosity and create good will and stability for our citizens. Thanks to our ancestor’s diligence abundance and modern convenience is what sets us apart from past Americans so let’s end the cold war mentality and follow a better path towards individuality and shared responsibility. Allow me to sum this up “Free The Weed & Free The People”

I know a lot of people who smoke pot these days. (Many of them legally, because they live in Washington State or Colorado.) Those people are all smart and articulate speakers/writers so I feel a little bad making the joke here that the entire website reads like he wrote it while stoned.

But, the entire website reads like he wrote it while stoned.

I have very minimal experience with marijuana because I tried it a handful of times and concluded I really didn’t like its effects. The one time I got really stoned, I attempted to write a letter in which I was complaining about the effects. And it came out kind of like this. My sentences would start on one topic and finish on another. I couldn’t stay focused on anything for more than a fraction of a second. I eventually gave up trying to write. (And I couldn’t read either and I got really bored and this is how Naomi decided that marijuana was not for her. Well, plus there were the leeches. It was just a bad time all around.)

I am pro-marijuana legalization and I am happy to see that society is moving in that direction but I see no particular reason to vote for Legal Marijuana Now candidates in general and if I were going to vote for a LMN candidate I’d want someone who’d be a credible officeholder, not someone who goes meandering off on weird tangents and writes all his paragraphs as wall-to-wall run-on sentences.

Also, the case for marijuana that goes “but it’s just a plaaaaaant” makes me want to list all the incredibly harmful toxic plants out there. There are bunches! Natural does not equal benign! (I don’t think marijuana is sufficiently dangerous to justify the laws against it. Even remotely. But I prefer to pressure Democrats and Republicans to recognize the stupidity of these laws, rather than voting for third-party candidates.)

In summary: vote for Keith Ellison, who is both a perfectly fine Congressional Rep and the only credible candidate in this race.

 

 

Election 2016: State Representative District 60A

(By request.)

This is a much more interesting race than a typical Minneapolis legislative race, because there’s no Republican at all and the Democrat is instead being challenged by an “Independent Progressive Liberal.”

The two candidates:

Diane Loeffler (incumbent, DFL)
Gabe Barnett (challenger, endorsed by the Green Party, chose to list his party as “Independent Progressive Liberal.”)

Diane Loeffler has been in the legislature for 12 years. Per her Wikipedia page, she has actual bona fide expertise on health care policy; she’s a health care policy analyst and planner for Hennepin County as her day job. Not surprisingly, if you click the Issues page on her website, the first thing you’ll see is a page about health care.

She supports “universal access” (“Universal access to affordable health care whether unemployed, self-employed or involved in a small business”) and doesn’t talk on her website about single-payer, even as a long-term sort of goal. In talking about costs, she focuses on “changes the promote health, prevention, and universal coverage,” which…okay. I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers here and I am not an expert, but. There’s only so much you can do to get people to voluntarily make changes that “promote health.” (We’ve successfully shifted societal norms around smoking, but that took literally decades.) I think the idea that we can control health costs by encouraging healthy lifestyle choices is really questionable. It’s a politically safe answer but I’m super doubtful, in part just due to all the many people I’ve known over the years who were perfectly healthy until suddenly they weren’t.

On the plus side, she talks about both “support for home care” and “an improved system of options when home care isn’t enough,” and it is really damn rare to see people address caregiving; she’s clearly aware of the importance of not incentivizing self-destructive behavior (if it’s expensive to get a mammogram, a lot of people will just skip it); and public health approaches.

I was thinking that I really thought there should be some up-to-date information on how she wants to deal with MNsure-related stuff but then I got to her “Fairness and Respect” issues page and saw that it includes “Formally recognize in law all long-term committed relationships, including gay and lesbian partnerships” and now I’m curious when she last updated this site in any way.

Gabe Barnett’s campaign site is a Facebook page. He has a little sidebar that links to gabebarnett.com but when I clicked, that just took me back to the FB page. A campaign FB is definitely better than nothing, but if you want to track down someone’s position on issues they’re a lot harder to find.

In his pinned post up top, he says, “Our community’s leaders should share our values of equity, justice, and compassion for all people, regardless of race, gender, religious affiliation, or income. Our elected officials should share our passion for a truly sustainable approach to the environment, and remain steadfast in our goal of protecting our natural resources and stopping climate change. Our representatives in St. Paul should be leading the conversation on these progressive ideals, and pushing the envelope on innovative ways to address them with integrity and conviction.” Someone left a question asking how he differed from Loeffler, and he said, “Thanks for inquiring. We will be releasing my full platform in the coming weeks.” On his FB page, the closest thing I found to a platform is this image. I’ll note two things: (1) the image was posted in May, and he promised a full platform soon in June, so this is definitely not what he meant. (2) if you’re using a screen reader, images of text on Facebook are completely inaccessible. So if you’re blind, you’re not going to be able to read it.

I will admit that I feel some hostility toward people who talk a good line about progressivism, but even while campaigning, can’t be bothered to do a few really minimal things (like not posting important text in picture-only format).

I guess I’ll also note that the text starts out, “Together WE can… * get corporate money and influence out of Minnesota politics and restore power to the people. * eradicate institutional racism, sexism, and classism from the public sector” — so, no ableism listed. (It goes on for 15 more lines that I’m not going to type out. If you’re using a screen reader, I would strongly encourage you to e-mail Gabe at gabe.for.northeast@gmail.com and ask him to send you a text version.)

Fundamentally it looks like he doesn’t disagree with Loeffler on much; he thinks that in general the Northeast representative should be trying to push the Overton Window to the left and apparently doesn’t think Loeffler’s doing a good job there. Here’s his statement: “I believe that, as progressive and diverse as Northeast is, we should be boldly leading the conversation on making Minnesota an inclusively equitable and sustainable state, not meekly toeing a moderate party line.”

And, okay, I kind of get where he’s coming from here, but you know, I am pretty sure he is vastly overestimating the legislature’s overall interest in listening to anyone’s Bold Conversation.

There’s a nice article about Gabe that ran in a freebie local paper. He starts out complaining that too many people ignore “down-ballot politics.” (Tell me about it, Gabe.) He also notes, “Whether it’s gay marriage, or smoking bans, or medical marijuana, these things happen when this city does it, then that state does it, then that county does it, then this city does it, and all of a sudden it’s a national movement” — and yeah, I think he’s often correct. He goes on to say he was inspired by Bernie (cool) and that he’s undecided on the Presidential race (less cool). (He does say that if it looks close in Minnesota he’ll hold his nose and vote for Hillary, and he isn’t super impressed by Jill Stein, either.) This article also talks about his in-person outreach to the community: “Social media’s a great tool…but again, local politics should be about community engagement.” To which I would say that community engagement is great, but when you’re talking about an area with almost 18,000 households and over 40,000 people, there are some real advantages to having a centralized place with a bunch of information about yourself, like a website. With your platform.

Gabe comes across as super young to me, but he’s actually 35, so not that much younger than I am. He’s a musician (a fairly successful one — his band, Gabe Barnett and Them Rounders, has performed at First Ave).

Fundamentally, here’s what strikes me about this race.

There’s a legitimate philosophical question about what you want from your elected representatives. Do you prefer someone who is pragmatic, who will set smaller, more achievable goals and get more of those things done, or would you prefer someone who is idealistic, who will have big goals and try to inspire people to work toward that goal, and who (honestly) probably won’t get anything done in the short term? If what you want is something big and sweeping, do you think you’re more likely to achieve it in baby steps, or with the revolutionary, aim-for-the-moon approach?

At this point in my life, I will pick the pragmatist pretty much every time. Half a loaf is not only better than no loaf, it’s way more than I was expecting. Typically I feel like I’m doing pretty well if we get 1/4 of a loaf. But I have very close friends whose views I respect who want their representative to throw that loaf to the side and say “you motherfucker, that is HALF. HALF A LOAF. For people who have NO BREAD. Why should we take this?”

I guess what I really want (and what I definitely feel like I had in my old district and have in my current district) is a legislator who will grab that half a loaf and put it somewhere safe and them come back to the table and pitch a fit about the missing half.

Is that what 60A has in Diane Loeffler? This is one of the things that’s harder to know from outside the district. Even if she’ll just shrug and take the half-loaf, though, that’s who I’d want representing me in the legislature because so much of what the legislature is about is fighting for these incremental changes in the face of complete intransigence. (I mean, the titanic fight that got us passage of one of the strictest medical marijuana laws in the country would be a good illustration of this.)

Diane Loeffler’s “Results” page has some hilarious examples of what I mean, though. It includes, “Diane worked to make more aware of property tax refunds (1/3 of those eligible don’t apply).” This is one of those tiny accomplishments that nonetheless put a chunk of money in the pocket of a bunch of people who were probably able to make good use of it. She got $24 million allocated to replace a bridge in the Northeast that was in particularly poor condition. She mentions helping to pass the graduated licensing law, which restricts new teenage drivers. (Some of this stuff looks really old. I think this really might have been a good year to update her site, though possibly she checked out her opponent’s FB page and the fact that he never got a platform uploaded made her figure she didn’t need to bother.)

If I lived in this district, it’s possible that Gabe would door-knock me and blow me away so much I’d vote for him. But part of my attitude here (which also heavily influenced my preferences during the Democratic primary) is that I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, immersed in the talk-a-good-line, never-get-shit-done school of progressivism, and I’m kind of over it. If you have goals like “make Minnesota’s public colleges tuition-free” I have a lot of questions. Where are you going to get the money? How are you going to set this up so it’s not just a blank check for the university to spend money on stupid shit? How long will individuals from other states have to live here to qualify for residency, and how will this impact the ability of Minnesotans to get in to our colleges and universities? Will this be an unlimited sort of deal or four years only? What if someone changes their major? What about students who come in needing remedial work? …I mean, it’s not that I don’t think this is a good idea. At the very least, I think that public college tuition should be something that every student can pay for by working part-time in a crappy job. (I also think that if someone got B’s and A’s in college-preparatory classes at their high school and arrived at the university and got told they needed remedial classes, their school district should be on the hook for the cost of the remediation.) And finally, how are you going to accomplish this when the legislature wasn’t even able to pass a transportation bill? There are 5.457 million Minnesotans; the House Rep for 60A will represent 40,000 of them.

(If you have a request for an analysis of a Minneapolis or St. Paul race I haven’t written about, feel free to let me know. I don’t do suburban or outstate races because I’m insufficiently versed in local jargon, hot-button issues, etc.)

Election 2016: MN State Senate, District 63

My old Minneapolis district has the following two people on the ballot:

Patricia Torres Ray
Ron Moey

So, here’s my story about Patricia Torres Ray. Back when the seat opened up, Ed and I had gone to our caucus and signed up to be Senate District Convention delegates, so we were getting door knocked and called by all the various DFLers running for the open seat. Patricia door-knocked us as we were preparing for a St. Patrick’s Day party — cleaning house, peeling carrots and potatoes, etc. We told her we were happy to talk to her but she’d need to come in and talk while we continued to get ready for the party. Which she willingly did.

We really liked her. We actually liked several of the people running that year, but Patricia wound up being our first choice. And that was true for a lot of people: she was ahead on the very first ballot, and gained each time until she hit endorsement levels.

She’s smart, progressive, thoughtful, and good at her job. I’m still a fan.

Ron Moey has no website. Here’s what I was able to glean about him:

  • He runs a drain cleaning company I’ve heard of – Ron the Sewer Rat. I looked him up on Angie’s List and he has a ton of reviews and a solid A rating. If you need a drain cleaner, he’s a great person to call.
  • A Gun Owner’s PAC thinks he’s great.
  • The anti-abortion MCCL thinks he’s great.
  • Here’s the weirdest and most interesting thing I found. He also ran back in 2002 and filled out a questionnaire about education policy. This is still online. The thing I find sort of fascinating is how differently Republicans talked about education 14 years ago. Back then, the target of everyone’s hatred was the Profiles of Learning. And let me just be clear about this: I hated the Profiles of Learning. I still consider it one of the most jaw-droppingly misguided and badly implemented educational policy iniatives I’ve seen in my lifetime. It came from my own party, and I remember looking at one particularly dismaying set of state election results and saying, “well, on the bright side, hopefully they’ll ditch the PoL.” (They did.)

    But the questionnaire talks about protecting students from job training. (“The Profile of Learning and School-to-Work system are turning K-12 schools into job training centers where job skills training is replacing academic instruction. … Will you support legislation that protects students in K-12 schools by prohibiting all requirements that all students must participate in career skills training or other work-based curriculum, instruction or employment-related activity in career areas?” Ron answered “yes,” clearly the correct answer.) I think most Republicans these days are OK with in-school job training these days, but maybe not?

    He also answered yes to this one: “Nonprofit foundations and the federal government are promoting a massive expansion of an early childcare system in every state that will place the government in authority over parenting. An early childhood government education system will require government credentialing, and therefore mandate a government curriculum. State early childhood curriculum incorporates content aligned with the Profile of Learning and often uses material deeply offensive to parental values and beliefs. For example, the early childhood credentialing program called TEACH uses a curriculum that promotes childhood acceptance of homosexuality, engages in sexual identity training, promotes negative attitudes toward western civilization and history, rewrites history that reflects a bias against traditional values, and trains young children to be political activists. Will you support legislation that prohibits the state from usurping the authority of parents for their children or from requiring early childhood curriculum that is negative toward traditional values?

    I’m not even 100% sure what they were objecting to there — early childhood education programs like ECFE? (ECFE is a parent/child education program run through local school districts. I went to ECFE classes with Molly when she was a baby and toddler. I got some useful stuff out of the program.)  Universal Pre-K? Credentialling requirements for day care providers? The fact that the state can remove your children from your home for abuse or neglect?

    I mean, clearly they’re opposed to the book Heather Has Two Mommies but the precise objection here is genuinely unclear to me.

Anyway — Ron Moey has no website or online info and is endorsed by a bunch of people I don’t like, so I’d strongly recommend Patricia Torres Ray.

 

Election 2016: State Representative District 63A

On the ballot:

Jim Davnie
Kyle Bragg

So there are a couple of politicians around I know personally, some from way, way back. I met Jim Davnie (State House representative for my old neighborhood) back in 2000, when he was first running. I did some lit-dropping over the summer and went to some campaign events. His wife and I were both pregnant. So when he door-knocked me in mid-October he started with “hi, I’m Jim Davnie, I’m running for–” and then broke off mid sentence when he processed that it was me, and I was holding a newborn, and that meant I’d had my baby. He squee’d over tiny Molly, asked about the birth, told me that he was not going to tell his wife (who’d had 24+ hours of back labor) about my ridiculously short-and-easy labor, and headed onward to introduce himself to someone else.

I really, really like Jim. Of all the local politicians, he’s the one who most reminds me of Paul Wellstone. He’s a committed progressive and also a terrific, rousing speaker. Once a high-school dropout, he’s now an educator, one of the major movers and shakers for the state anti-bullying bill, and in general a terrific voice for progressive values in the legislature. He’s one of the people I was always happy to vote for when I lived in Minneapolis.

Anyway, Jim’s website is here.

I looked up Kyle Bragg and was immediately sort of surprised that a black man who’s a union organizer was running as a Republican. Then I realized that this Kyle Bragg lives in New York and also this confused me two years ago, as well.

When I searched “kyle bragg mn,” my 2014 post about this race was the fifth hit down. Right below the whitepages link. That’s truly pathetic, Kyle. You could set up a Facebook page for your campaign. You could set up a LinkedIn page for your campaign. You could set up a GoFundMe page for your campaign and okay it’s not like I actually recommend that option but it’s less pathetic than what you’ve got, which is nothing.

The third hit down was a page for the SD63 Republicans, with a drop-down “pick the guy you want to e-mail” contact form. Kyle is one of them, so if you want to ask him any question, have at, I guess? The other thing of interest I discovered is that this guy I vaguely remember from college, Carleton Crawford, who I think ran the college Republican group, is now on the SD 63 Republicans Executive Committee.

On page two I found Kyle’s LinkedIn, which I’m leaving here so I can find it two years from now when he runs again and still doesn’t put up a campaign web page. Pretty sure this is his Facebook. He takes some very nice shots of the changing seasons in the Twin Cities.

Vote for Jim Davnie.

Election 2016: Minneapolis School District Funding Referendum

Minneapolis is voting on whether to extend an existing property tax levy to increase the funding of the Minneapolis public schools.

The actual question reads:

School District Question Renewal of Expiring Referendum Revenue Authorization

The Board of Special School District No. 1 (Minneapolis Public Schools) has proposed to renew the school district’s existing referendum revenue authorization of $1,604.31 per pupil, which is scheduled to expire after taxes payable in 2016. The revenue will be used to manage class sizes and provide supportive services and activities for students. The proposed referendum revenue authorization would increase each year by the rate of inflation and be applicable for nine years, beginning with taxes payable in 2017, unless otherwise revoked or reduced as provided by law. Shall the increase in the revenue proposed by the board of Special School District No. 1 be approved?

BY VOTING “YES” ON THIS BALLOT QUESTION, YOU ARE VOTING TO EXTEND AN EXISTING PROPERTY TAX REFERENDUM THAT IS SCHEDULED TO EXPIRE.

So let’s start by talking about how school funding works in Minnesota. Unlike many states, we do the bulk of our school funding statewide, through our state income taxes. Districts receive money from the state based on the number of pupils they have. If you live in St. Paul but would like to send your kids to an Eagan school, you can do that as long as you’re willing to get them there — for the most part, you can send your kids to any public school in the state you’re willing to transport them to, although if a school is full up they can turn away the non-resident kids.

I’ve been looking for the information on the base funding per kid, how much comes from the state, how much comes from local property taxes, and how much comes from these levies, and I’m not finding anything that breaks it down in a straightforward way. Apparently the base funding is $5,831 per kid, but that gets adjusted up in all sorts of ways. As of a couple of years ago, Minneapolis and St. Paul were both spending about $14,000 per kid and at least one article I found said that about $11,000 of that came from the state.

One of the ways you can increase the amount the kids in your district get: pass a tax levy to collectively raise your own property taxes and give the schools more money. Which Minneapolis has faithfully done during the entire twenty years that I’ve lived in the Twin Cities.

 

This is actually a renewal of an existing levy, so if it passes, your taxes will not go up from this vote. (They’ll probably go up, because I think Minneapolis raised property taxes generally, but the amounts here will stay pretty much the same.) Money from this levy covers 13% of the Minneapolis Public Schools budget, and there’s a spreadsheet showing what each school gets, if you’re curious.

The number I really wanted to see is how much a typical homeowner contributes towards this funding each year. That information is in this PDF. If you own a house worth $250,000, you will pay about $315 toward the schools in 2016 (under the current levy), and you’ll pay $291 in 2017 under the proposed new levy. (I have no idea why that number is going down slightly given that this is a renewal of something that already exists? These numbers are estimates, anyway, but you get the general idea.) Obviously the amount you’d pay goes up or down depending on the value of the property you own. (And if you rent, you won’t pay it directly but like all property taxes it will likely get passed along in rent increases, though I’ll note that if the property taxes didn’t go up at all your rent would probably still go up if your landlord thought they could get more in rent.) The levy runs for nine years, after which they will presumably ask to renew it again.

There’s a website for the Vote Yes for Kids campaign. It’s pretty content-free. (The PDF I linked up above is a lot more helpful — so is this FAQ.) No one has set up a website campaigning against the levy, at least that I found.

I endorse a “Yes” vote, and I would vote for this if I lived in Minneapolis, because I always vote for these. Even though it annoyed the hell out of me that they claimed twice that they were going to use the money to lower class sizes and class sizes in Minneapolis stayed appallingly large. This time they’re saying that they use the money to “manage class sizes,” whatever the hell that means. (To be fair, after both my kids were through kindergarten, I think they lowered kindergarten sizes. And my kids aren’t in MPS anymore so I don’t know what class sizes are like these days.)

 

 

Elections 2016: Minneapolis School Board At-Large

Minneapolis has an at-large School Board seat coming up for a vote this year, and the incumbent, Carla Bates, isn’t running again.

Two candidates are running:

Kim Ellison
Doug Mann

Kim’s site is pretty content-free. She’s worked as a teacher both at a regular high school and an alternative high school for very at-risk kids (this 2012 interview with her gives a lot more detail on her work as an educator). She’s actually served on the school board for four years already, but previously she held the seat for the District 2 representative. She’s retiring from that seat and running for the at-large seat.

She has the DFL endorsement, which is weirdly not mentioned on her website, and the only person running against her is Doug Mann, who’s been running for the school board since 1999 with no luck.

My issues with Doug Mann can be summed up pretty well by noting that on the front page of his extensive website he lays out his priorities for schools (better retention, more mainstreaming of special ed kids, avoid watering down curricula), then adds, “Cut the war budget and raise taxes on corporations and the rich to fund the transition from fossil fuels and nuclear power to clean energy and to fund social welfare programs” and lists out a grab-bag of other left-wing positions (Medicare for all, raise the minimum wage to $15, eliminate tuition for public universities, legalize marijuana…)

I mean, do I think most of these things are a good idea? Sure. Do I think the Minneapolis School Board has the power to enact any of them? No. I am in favor of electing people who have a sense of what the job entails.

Doug’s contact information is a Facebook page which he last posted to in February. He is endorsed by the Green Party.

If I were voting in Minneapolis this year, I would vote for Kim, despite her mostly useless website. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: serving on the Minneapolis (and St. Paul) school board is supposed to be a part-time job, but it’s not; it’s a full-time job, and one of their major responsibilities is getting yelled at for making unpopular decisions. It is a terrible job for which they get paid less than $15,000/year. For much of the time I was living in Minneapolis, most of the people who served didn’t run for re-election, which meant the school board lacked any real institutional memory. At some point I decided that I would always vote for incumbents on this board running for re-election unless they had really pissed me off. Kim Ellison definitely qualifies.

Also, I think that when the work on a school board has become a full-time job, the school board members, like City Council representatives, should be paid a salary they can actually live on. (This would have to be changed at the state legislative level, and I do not think it’s anyone’s priority, unfortunately.)